Man, am I bruised and worn, but at least my legs are tight. Guess I won’t need to do the exercises in Thin Thighs in Thirty Days for a while. It started as a conversation I had about camping one night while we were hanging out with some of Lou’s old high school friends. I was a Girl Scout for years, and even got to the rank of First Class. Perhaps I bragged too much about that fact in my enthusiasm to get Lou interested in a camping trip. To me, camping means going to a campsite and pitching a tent. You build a campfire, go on day hikes up a mountain, swim in lakes, and other stuff like that. I thought it would be a lot of fun, since it was something we’ve never done together, and something Lou’s never done at all.

We went to the library at Stony Brook to find info on where we could go camping. I assumed we would go to the Adirondacks or Catskills, which are not far from here. We looked at lots of books, including this one written by an older woman who had hiked the entire length of the Appalachian Trail, from Georgia to Maine. This concept got Lou really interested and excited, and we only checked out books about the Appalachian Trail. Next thing I know, we have narrowed our search down to a section that we could do in a week of backpacking, which was described as the most difficult part of the entire 2000 miles of trail. Once he had set his mind to this task, there was absolutely no interest in camping anymore.

There’s a difference between camping and backpacking equipment. We borrowed camping equipment from my sister, which included an orange tent with lots of poles and stakes, backpacks with no support systems, boots that didn’t fit me right, a metal stove, and thick, heavy sleeping bags. My backpack was well over 50 pounds, and Lou’s was heavier, but he’s much taller and stronger. I am proud that I made it through the entire week, but it left its mark; my shoulders have welt marks from the weight of the pack, and I have a huge multi-colored bruise on my thigh from when I lost my footing and fell down a steep rocky slope. Our feet suffered the most. Thank God we brought moleskins to cover blisters. Lou had each of his toes bandaged up and we laughed that they looked like the hostages in Iran. “Blindfolding the hostages” made wrapping up our painful piggies every day actually kind of fun, despite the joke being in extremely poor taste.

The trail is a long rocky path of steep ups and downs. As you climb, you are in the woods for the most part, and can’t see where you are in relation to the overall mountain, and it seems like you are never going to get to the end. But as you get closer to the top, the trees become smaller, there are some open ledges that show both how far you’ve come, and how far you could fall, and then finally small flowering bushes just before reaching the peak. After a few climbs, we learned these flowers meant we were close, and we dubbed them the “welcoming committee.” The views at the summits were incredible, and well worth the hard work to get there and enjoy a snack of trail mix and M&Ms. Breakfast was instant oatmeal and hot chocolate. Lunch and dinner were freeze dried instant meals from pouches mixed with heated stream water.  The only night I was kind of scared was after we had just hiked through the Mahoosuc Notch, which was basically a mile of climbing over and under huge piles of boulders. At the end of the notch was the base of the Mahoosuc Arm, with a steep, 1000-ft ascent to its summit. It was just about dark when we got through the jumble of boulders that literally filled the bottom of the notch, so we set up camp at the base of the arm. I felt completely trapped, with the huge obstacles on each side. The noises my sleeping bag made as my chest rose and fell became creatures in the night in my imagination. Lou slept like a log, not the least bit intimidated.

After a week of only washcloths and dips in the lakes to bathe, it was amazing anyone picked us up when we hitchhiked from where we popped out in Maine back to where we parked the car in New Hampshire. We drove straight back to Long Island. Lou can’t drive late at night, but as long as I have a radio to sing along with and an open window, I can do it all night long, and I did both ways. I must have heard Ghostbusters a couple dozen times on the drive up, which inspired us to sing while going through the toughest parts of the trail, “I ain’t afraid of no notch!” I’ve done a lot of travel, but I have never been so glad to be back home as I was after this trip. A piece of pizza, a hot shower and a soft bed were each luxurious.

Lou wants to go again, and eventually hike the whole trail. I’ll do it if we can get some better equipment. It was beautiful and I’m proud I did it, but this was physical torture.